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Kauai faces housing shortage

PUHI — A public meeting to discuss Kauai’s housing shortage started with a bit of irony: so many people showed up that several were turned away due to lack of space.

In total, more than 50 people packed the meeting space at Kauai Community College on Thursday to hear a three-person panel discuss the reasons behind Kauai’s severe housing shortage and possible solutions. The free event was sponsored by the Kauai Planning and Action Alliance.

According to a 2013 technical study prepared for the County’s General Plan update, Kauai will need nearly 4,000 more housing units by 2020 to meet community needs, said Diane Zachary, KPAA president and CEO, who moderated the event.

“Through this discussion, we want to explore the current situation and how the island’s housing needs can be met,” she said.

According to panelist Kamuela Cobb-Adams, the median price of a single-family home on Kauai is more than $600,000, whereas the median income for a family of four is $74,000, meaning the average family can only qualify for a loan of slightly less than $300,000 — half the price of what is needed to buy a house.

Cobb-Adams, director of Kauai County’s Housing Agency, said the island hasn’t developed enough to keep up with demand, and said that more than 1,000 units are needed by next year to keep up with growth.

“It’s even worse than I thought,” Cobb-Adams said of the problem.

Marie Williams, Kauai County’s long-range planner, said there is very little housing development on the horizon.

“We have a shortage,” Williams said.

Williams urged the public to get involved as the county works on the General Plan, which is the guiding document for future zoning and development issues.

The panel spent a lot of time explaining the many causes of the problem, but was short on actionable solutions.

Lee Morey, of Coldwell Banker-Turtle Cove Realty, interjected a dose of financial reality into the discussion.

“The reason there is no affordable housing is because financially it doesn’t make sense to build it,” Morey said. “And as long as the county is imposing the regulations they are imposing, there won’t be.”

Morey said the housing shortage problem isn’t unique to Hawaii.

“This is happening all over America,” she said. “Hawaii is number 10 in the states that have this issue, that have outsiders coming in to buy their properties. Number 10! It’s not number one.”

“We don’t have duplexes here, we don’t have apartment houses here — why not? They work quite well in other places. But it has to be something where the county works with the developer, not against the developer,” Morey said.

Adam-Cobb said residents need to rethink what rural means, and suggested reconsidering height restrictions to allow more vertical building in certain areas as a way of increasing supply.

“In the center of town, let’s go three, four stories,” Cobb said.

Audience members such as Ben Sullivan offered their own ideas.

“In the Mainland there are a lot of solutions,” Sullivan said. “For example, mixed use was brought up as a good solution. And it is a really viable solution in a lot of places.”

Marion Paul of the Kauai Planning and Action Alliance also offered a solution.

“I think one of the best solutions we can look at are ADUs (Additional Dwelling Units),” she said.

Paul said that allowing more additional dwelling units such as a freestanding guesthouse or additions with a private entrance and kitchen would be an immediate, cost-effective way of increasing supply.

“It could be restricted to Ohana or long-term rentals — it wouldn’t be transient,” Paul said.

After the meeting, Zachary said she would have liked to hear more on other topics that didn’t come up, such as micro-houses.

Information about the meeting will be posted online at kauainetwork.org.

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